Saturday, June 20, 2009

Incredible India

25 January 2009 - 2 February 2009
Last time I wrote was from Go Karna. The week in a comfortable roomat Kudle Beach was a nice break from traveling. It as nice to unpack our clothes, toiletries and bits and bobs, put them in a place and not pack them up the following morning. The beach was nice and the restaurants served good food (though avoid the salads - I got food poisoning again and this was by far the worst case yet. Not to worry though, I've learned two lessons from my forays in food land India: 1) when food poisoning strikes, STOP eating and 2) stick to what your mind knows is safe, not what your nose or eyes says might be good. I am now finally curbing my natural love for ALL food (all food, excepting beets) and confining my enjoyment of food to cooked, vegetarian foo - as I said in I would before leaving Aus, before cravings for kebabs or salad led me astray). It was nice to settle down in one place for a week, especially a place as nice and relaxing as Go Karna. I love to travel, but sometimes a rest is necessary.

We left Go Karna to make our way to Hampi. We took a rickshaw (please note when I say rickshaw, I mean an auto-rickshaw, not the bicycle rickshaw, which doesn't settle well with me) and a local bus to Ankola, a po-dunk Indian village, that to put it nicely, is a bit of a hole. We rented a room for a couple of hours to store our bags while we waited for our bus. After killing three hours playing celebrities, we headed back to our room to brush our teeth, wash our faces and ready ourselves for the overnight bus to Hampi. We flipped on the light to our room, walked in and a rat the size of Penny (for those of you who don't know Penny, she is our cat who is currently enjoying a holiday at Rancho Relaxo chez Sam Durham) went scurrying from the bed, where one can only assume it was resting quite comfortably nestled in my beautiful, hand-woven cotton scarf (now currently being disinfected). Thank God (or Ganesha, Allah, Jesus, pick a deity) we didn't have to spend the night there!

We had booked our bus ticket on an overnight 'sleeper bus' but when we got on the bus, there was some confusion about whether we'd booked the sleeper or seats, whether there was one or two of us, whether we were together or not and where our bags should be stored. Perhaps we were the first people to ever get an overnight bus. . . Anyway, we settled into our beds and faded in and out of consciousness for the eight hours to Hampi. At one point in the middle of the night we pulled over for a toilet break. I disembarked the bus and foolishly expected something along the lines of an Aussie or American 'rest stop.' I suppose where we were could be called a rest stop, but it looked an awful lot like someone's front yard. The boys just went wherever (as boys are luckily enough to be able to do) and the girls walked into this poor person's yards, behind their front gate for cover and did their business there. What else is a girl to do? Demand a toilet, hand sink, paper towels and anti-bacterial soap? Good luck!

At around 8:00am we pulled into Hampi, quite disoriented, having spent the night not exactly sleeping, but not entirely awake either. We stumbled off the bus, sure we wanted to head to the other side of the river to find a guest house, but not sure where the river was. We asked a rickshaw driver to take us there and he quoted 50 rupees each. As we didn't know how far the river was and because the bus quite frequently drops you miles away from where you want to go, we said okay. We drove about five hundred metres and the river came into sight. Two hundred metres more and the rickshaw stopped and the driver indicated for us to get out. This ride is worth about 10 rupees, not the quoted 100, and had we known how close the river was, we would've walked. When we got out, I handed him 20 rupees, which is still twice what he should've gotten. He started yelling and waving his arms at me and was very angry. What I should've done is told him if he's not happy with the 20 rupees, we could consult the police and see what they think is fair. This is not, however, what I did. Rohan said, 'Give him 50 rupees and he'll go away' and so I did and he did.

We walked down the stairs to the river, looked to the right and saw an elephant being led to the river for a bath. It turns out every sunrise and sunset the elephants from one of the temples are led to the river to be bathed. We then waded knee deep through the river to get into a boat that took us to the other side, where we found a bungalow, ate some breakfast and then passed out for a few hours. When we got up and strayed as far as the cafe ten metres away, there was a family of monkeys just down the hill from us. Between the view of temples, ruins, the river, monkeys and the rocks, we really felt like we were in INDIA.

Rohan really felt like he was in India. He had that special feeling that everyone gets in India; the special feeling that has already disabled me twice and has now struck Ro down once. Whether it was the long overnight bus ride or something he ate or both, he was not a well boy.

In addition to the monkeys hanging out near the cafe (and on our roof. . .), the wildlife of Hampi had more surprises in store for us! We were taking it easy so Rohan could recover, so we spent most of the first full day in Hampi hanging out at the cafe. I'd had several cups of tea and a bottle of water, so I went to our bungalow to use the toilet. I opened the door to our toilet and what should I find? I truly believe a picture speaks a thousands words, so here is what I found. Clearly I need to find another toilet.

We weren't sure what to do with our visitor or what kind of snake it was. We assumed it was a poisonous one, because the toad didn't appear to be crushed like a python might do. Turns out we were correct, it was a poisonous snake, a King Cobra. 75% of King Cobra bites result in death. We knew if we told the people who run the bungalows about the snake, they would kill it. We left it for an hour and it continued to swallow the toad. Then one of the guys from the cafe moved the pitcher that had been front of it. This pleased the snake none too much. It removed its mouth from the toad and very agitatedly moved and hid in the corner of the bathroom, coiled under the toilet. We left it there, hoping it would find its own way out. About an hour later we went back to check the bathroom and see if it'd left. Rohan cautiously looked around and with a stick lifted the lid of the toilet, where the very upset cobra was coiled. This is when we decided it was time to tell someone, so I got one of the Nepali waiters. He walked into our bathroom, quite calmly confirmed that yes, it was a cobra (we of course had figured this out because of the flared neck), got the 'snake stick', gave it one solid whack and that was the end of the snake. Neither Rohan nor I were happy about the snake being killed, but it also wasn't a desirable option to have an angry cobra roaming around the neighbourhood. To say the least, we now search our room thoroughly when we enter it.

The next day we took it fairly easy. One of the great things about Hampi is that it is so beautiful and so full of temples and incredible scenery, that you don't have to go far or do much to enjoy yourself. At sunset I climbed up to the monkey temple. What a view! The next day we wandered through some ruins of a now dead city that was built in 1534. It felt like something out of Indiana Jones, with secret tunnels and caves included!

Tomorrow we will make a move north. We'll leave Hampi at 8:00am tomorrow and arrive at our destination the following day at 3:00pm (assuming there are no delays). We'll take a boat, rickshaw, bus, train and then probably another rickshaw or bus to get there. Once we arrive, we'll check into a yoga ashram for 10 days - no drinking, smoking or meat allowed. We will rise at 5:30am every day and spend the days meditating and doing yoga. There is no talking during meal times and we're required to attend all yoga and lecture sessions. It should be interesting!

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